One of the most remarkable features of contemporary international relations is the new prestige accorded universal standards of human rights. However, NATO’s attempt to redeem the promise of human rights by way of military intervention during the recent Kosovo crisis may have established a disturbing precedent for humanitarianism. The Alliance exploited the capabilities of precision weaponry and digital information systems to wage war with air power alone, thus avoiding entirely the deployment of ground troops and the domestic political exposure such a deployment inevitably involves. The best available evidence is that this approach had little immediate effect on the atrocities carried out by Serbian troops in Kosovo and that NATO’s overriding concern with casualty-avoidance in war undermined both the effectiveness and the moral legitimacy of humanitarian intervention. Even more disturbing is the question whether NATO’s action implies that states endowed with the advanced military assets that were brought to bear against Serbia will adopt a casual policy on the conduct of limited war, a policy at odds with the lessons of the twentieth century.
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